Fire the Canon

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! This week, we’re talking about one of our favorite nuns, the genius author, poet, and scholar Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. Born in the mid-1600s, Sor Juana’s work has had a resurgence in the past few decades, and we want to get a little piece of the action for ourselves. (Yes, we know Cinco de Mayo isn’t actually a big deal in Mexico.) Rachel shakes people’s hands just to MESS with them. Jackie reveals one of the rules of being white. Theo recommends time travel. Topics include: Kermit face, head nods between men, Joshua’s professional look and feel, sexual home runs, Play-Doh men, Oliphaunts, Octavio Paz, the SAT (Spaniard Aptitude Test), absorbing one’s twin in utero, and the genderqueer police.
Poems: “You Foolish Men” - and “I Approach and I Withdraw” -
Ada Limón’s article -

Show Notes

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!  This week, we’re talking about one of our favorite nuns, the genius author, poet, and scholar Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.  Born in the mid-1600s, Sor Juana’s work has had a resurgence in the past few decades, and we want to get a little piece of the action for ourselves.  (Yes, we know Cinco de Mayo isn’t actually a big deal in Mexico.)  Rachel shakes people’s hands just to MESS with them.  Jackie reveals one of the rules of being white.  Theo recommends time travel.  Topics include: Kermit face, head nods between men, Joshua’s professional look and feel, sexual home runs, Play-Doh men, Oliphaunts, Octavio Paz, the SAT (Spaniard Aptitude Test), absorbing one’s twin in utero, and the genderqueer police.

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What is Fire the Canon?

Prefer your books in comedy form, but still want to sound smart at parties? We got you. Discover the hilarity hidden in the classics with new episodes every Thursday.

* Intro music playing in background -

THEO: All right, so this is the quote from the book that I'm reading for the intro to the podcast.

JACKIE: This is Theo's message to men all over the world. Everyone except for himself.

RACHEL: Mmhmm.

THEO: (quoting poem) You FOOLISH men who lay the guilt on women, not seeing you're the cause of the very thing you blame! If you invite their disdain with measureless desire, why wish they will behave if you incite to ill?!

J: Theo, how did you know… How did you know that was my internal monologue all the time?

* Intro music resolves -

T: Hello, everyone, welcome to Fire the Canon, a special Easter episode!

R: Nope! It’s a Cinco de Mayo episode.

T: Hi everyone, welcome to Fire the Canon. It's the podcast where we read the stories in the Western canon and decide if they belong or not. This is a special Cinco de Mayo episode.

R: That's right.

J: But we're recording it on Easter. So that's the problem with America today, is that we're taking Jesus out of everything.

R: And putting him in Mexico.

T: It's time to welcome your hosts.

R: Okay, go on. Welcome us.

T: Hey, come on in!

R: Thank you!

J: Hi!

R: Good to see you. It's me, Rachel.

J: I brought some cheese, should I put it in the fridge now, or would you - oh, hey, this is Jackie, by the way.

T: Oh, I actually have cheese already.

R. So like, throw it in the garbage.

T: Yeah. Or just leave. Just leave.

J: Just leave. Okay, goodbye. This has been Fire the Canon.

R: Well, anyway, I'm Rachel. I'm one of the hosts of Fire the Canon.

J: I'm Jackie. I’m the other host of Fire the Canon.

R: I always have cheese. Nobody ever brings me any because they know I've got it.

T: I'm Theo. I'm the executive producer. I keep things rolling.

R: He's really leaning into that executive producer thing.

J: Yeah, and you guys are both wearing stripes today and I'm not. I didn't get the memo.

R: Go change.

J: That's actually - I don't know if, Rachel, you may not realize this because you're only part white - but that's actually a law of being white. Is that if two people are wearing something similar that you're not wearing, you actually have to say that you didn't get the memo. Like, it’s required.

R: Oh really?

J: Yeah.

R: Okay.

T: Oh, that's a white thing? I didn't know that.

J: I'm pretty sure it is.

T: Wow. We have such a rich culture.

R: Mayonnaise; didn't get the memo….

J: If the elevator stops on every floor, you’ve got to say, “Ope, we're taking the local!” If you see someone in the hallway, you gotta, you gotta give them a little - (making a little tight-lipped smile)

T: People can’t see that.

R: Flat-mouthed smile?

J: Yeah.

T: Flat-mouth smile.

J: Yeah.

R: Kermit-face at ‘em?

J: Yeah, Kermit face! (laughs heartily)

T: The thing that can trump that is if it's a guy seeing another guy, because then you’ve just got to do a little head nod.

J: Yeah.

T: Yeah.

R: Okay.

J: Also, I noticed, like, as a woman, when my boyfriend meets other men, they always shake his hand.

R: To congratulate him on dating you?

J: Well, like, when I'm the one introducing -

T: “Fine taste, sir.”

J: - a man to my boyfriend… Yeah, they always shake hands! And I always do get that little thought in my head, like, “Are they just saying, like, ‘I acknowledge that she's yours’ or something?”

R: Gross.

T: Wait, wait, wait. This is someone who you know, that Joshua, your boyfriend, doesn't know.

J: Yeah, yeah.

T: Okay.

J: Doesn't that happen to you, Rachel? Like if you introduced Stephen to a male friend of yours, doesn't he shake his hand?

R: I, uh, purposefully shake a lot of people's hands, like, to turn the tables on them.

J: But you already know the people. Why would you shake their hands if you already know them?

T: Rachel does it in the middle of a conversation just to fuck with people.

R: If I'm being introduced.

J: “I just want you to know he’s mine!”

R: Urgh.

J: You don't notice that, Rachel?

R: No… So you're saying, people shake Joshua's hand when you introduce them?

J: If they’re men.

R: What's the counterpoint? Women don't shake his hand?

J: Yeah.

T: What do they do? Hug?

J: No, they don't do anything. They just go like…

R: Wiggle their butts at him?

J: Yeah.

R: A restrained wave?

J: Yeah, they get into the lordosis pose.

T: Well, Joshua does have a sort of professional feel to him.

R: And look.

J: You want to know something? I shook his hand on our first date.

T: What??

J: Like, when we parted ways, I said, “It was nice to meet you,” and I shook his hand.

T: Did he think that was funny?

R: “It was a pleasure doing business with you.” “It was - it was business doing pleasure with you, actually.”

T: Oooh!

J: That'll be two hundred dollars, please.

T: Wait, I don’t get that. Is that…

J: That's like if I was a prostitute. “It's been business doing pleasure with you.”

T: Oh. Escort.

J: Escort.

T: But continue.

J: Yeah, no, he did think it was weird. Later we talked about it and he was like, “Yeah, why'd you shake my hand?” I was like, “I don't know, like what was I supposed to do? Hug you?” And he was like “Yeah, I definitely wanted a hug,” and I was like, “Oh.”

R: Go in for a freakin’ smooch. Am I right, Theo?

T: Always.

J: Is that what you do on the first date?

R: Sometimes.

J: Or just any time you hang out with a friend?

R: Some people do even more than a smooch on a first date.

T: It's true. Some people go way further. They do like, two or three handshakes.

R: Yeah.

J: Yeah! “I made it to the third shake!”

R: Because the level is: handshake, hug, one kiss, two or three handshakes.

T: That's first, second, third base and then home run.

R: Wouldn't four handshakes…?

J: You forgot sex. Sex is below the third handshake.

R: Four handshakes would be a home run.

T: Ugh.

J: Home run.

T: That's smutty.

J: Smutty!

R: It's foul.

J: Like I went to go shake his hand and he was like, “Whoa! Buy me dinner first!”

T: That is weird. I don't think I would shake the person's hand. I could see myself just sort of awkwardly saying like, “That was fun! Okay, bye!”

J: Yeah, that's what I should have done.

T: Not handshake.

R: I feel like I would… I would either hug or nothing. I can't envision shaking a hand on a date.

J: But you're right, he has - he has just a professional air about him all the time.

R: It’s because he always wears pressed chinos.

T: It's a fact!

J: No it's not.

R: It's true!

J: I like that you guys are like making up this lore about Joshua, like Theo was like, “He loves his phone games!” He doesn't play any phone games. I don't know why you said that.

T: Wow, you remember that!

R: Well maybe if he listened to our podcast, we'd know a little more about him.

J: Yeah, he's a mystery. We could just make him whatever we want. Really, he's like a Play-Doh man.

R: A Play-Doh man?

T: Yeah, I don't.. I think it depends on the man. Like, I think that's definitely something someone's going to do to Joshua, but it's like…

J: But maybe not Stephen?

T: But the thing is, I'm not a big handshaker. And if I encounter someone who's not a handshaker, nothing happens.

J: Yeah.

T: So, I think Joshua seems like a handshaker.

J: Yeah, maybe HE initiates the handshake - Oohh! Maybe that's it. Is it because he’s a douchey lawyer?

R: Yeah! I mean…

J: …Wait! No.

R: If the boat shoes fit.

T: Oh ho ho ho hoo hoo ho!

R: Got his ass.

J: You're also a lawyer!

R: Got his ass that's dressed in crisp chinos. Wow, I love ragging on Joshua because he'll never know.

J: Never know. He has a tie that has elephants on it and he likes to wear it to the office because it gives him… basically, he likes other people to think that he's conservative, and he thinks that the combination of like being an Indian lawyer and like, wearing a tie with elephants on it - that, elephants being the animal of the Republican Party -

T: Hmm, okay.

J: He likes to portray this image. Yeah, that he wants people to think he's like a super staid conservative, and so he leans into that.

T: Because he thinks it's funny? Or he thinks it helps him in business?

J: Both.

R: Or because it would be cover for any future criminal activities.

J: It's plausible deniability. …Cover??

R: I thought that maybe you were going to say the elephants - he wears them as a veiled threat to be like, “I'll never forget.”

J: Or like, “I could trample you right now.”

R: Yeah.

J: “And I have feelings that I can't express with words.”

R: But I'll never forget.

J: That's elephants.

T: That's another thing about elephants?

J: Yeah, elephants have lots of emotions. But they notably don't have speech. I don’t know if you noticed that or not.

R: That's what's notable about elephants amongst all the animals.

J: Amongst all the animals that have complex emotions!

R: Which animals that have complex emotions speak, Jackie?

T: How do you know they have complex emotions?

J: They do have complex emotions. They have grief.

T: How do you know that?

R: We can observe it.

J: You can watch them. Yeah.

T: Hmm. I guess - wait, which are the complex emotions? Happy, sad? Or like…

R: Hunger, sex.

T: Hunger, tired. Bored.

J: Yeah, those are all the really complex ones.

T: Just vibin’.

R: Ennui.

J: Basically, I think an elephant could appreciate The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock.

T: No.

J: If you can appreciate that poem, you understand complex emotions.

T: That poem is very much about language.

R: Do you think an elephant could appreciate the Lord of the Rings?

T: Ooh.

J: No.

R: What?!

J: Oh, yeah, yeah, they could. Those are very simple emotions.

T: Well, I bet they would be annoyed because the Oliphants, or whatever they're called, they, uh…

J: Yeah…

R: They get killed.

T: They are portrayed kind of badly.

R: It's racist, honestly, against Oliphants.

J: I mean it's pretty… they get to kill a lot of people first, though. Before they get killed.

R: They shouldn't have been conscripted in the first place.

T: Yeah, they don't know.

J: Anyway. That's, uh, animal behavior and analysis of Joshua’s psyche.

T: Shall we get into it now?

J: We shall get into it!

R: Yes. So, in the grand old tradition of our podcast, we will be commemorating holidays from other countries, and they’re holidays that that country doesn't really care about that much. So we've done it with St Patrick's Day, and here we are on Cinco de Mayo. Yes, we know that it's not Mexican Independence Day. It's just commemorating one battle.

J: The Alamo.

R: No, it's not about the Alamo.

J: Oh.

R: Anyway, we are going to be covering one of the great Mexican poets, particularly of the Colonial era. Her name is Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and she is very cool. She led a very interesting life. So the plan is we're going to talk about her life and then -

J: I’m excited.

R: - We will discuss a couple of her poems and will send you all on your way.

T: Perfection!

J: I also think she looked a lot like Rachel.

R: Whaaaaat?

J: Do you think that, Rachel?

R: I’m going to look at her right now.

J: She - you both have the very round eyebrows and like, the big round eyes and the little nose.

R: Circular face…

J: Circular face. Yeah, it's - that hair you have, it looks a lot like a nun’s habit.

R: I mean she looks more like me than most of the writers we cover, I'll say that.

J: She looks more like you than she looks like me or Theo. I'll tell you that.

T: Hmm.

J: But every time I saw her I was just like, “Aww, Rachel!”

R: “It's Rachel!” That’s funny.

J: 17th century lesbian Mexican Rachel.

R: I guess it turns out Jackie thinks… Jackie's on the side of… she's a lesbian.

J: I mean, she wrote a long love poem to a woman named Phyllis, so…

R: She wrote a lot… Well, okay, let me explain a little bit about where we're coming from. So I have known about her for a while, like since high school. I think I happened upon a biography of hers, or like I found a biography that I read and then I read like a semi fictionalized book of her life that had some poems and translation.

J: Why don’t you cite those books? What are they?

R: And Jackie had never heard of her before.

J: No, I've heard of her. I've known about her for like six days or so.

R: Okay, okay, so Jackie's also pretty familiar.

J: Yeah, yeah.

T: An old friend.

R: She's really great. She is considered today to be one of Mexico's, you know, foremost writers, and particularly female writers. But she had actually fallen out of common knowledge. She was not in the public eye until the writer Octavio Paz had spoken about her and said like, “Hey, this woman's poetry is amazing, we need to talk about her more, she should be more famous.” And everyone listened and they were like, “You're right, Octavio, we should talk about her more.” So now she's a really big deal.

J: Isn’t it kind of unusual and crazy when you do something like that and it actually works out?

R: Yeah!

J: Because there's definitely other universes where Octavio Paz was like, “Hey, she's really cool, we should pay more attention to her!” And everyone was like, “Shut up, Octavio.”

T: “Don't listen!”

J: “Yeah, who cares?”

R: I think he's like a Nobel Prize winner for literature, though, or something. So like… or poetry or whatever. So they kind of had to listen a little bit. But no, they were like, “Damn, you were right.”

J: So she was born… when, Rachel? In the 1600s?

R: Shall I… shall I tell the tale of her life?

T: Let's hear her dates. Tell the tale of her life.

R: She was born November 12, 1651. I do not know the date she was baptized. Sorry, Jackie.

J: Dang. Well, I can't possibly contextualize this then.

R: Yeah. So she was actually the illegitimate daughter of a Spanish army officer and her mother was Criolla, which is just, like, a term for a Spaniard born in Mexico, which to me I'm personally like, why do you need another word for that? So she's basically just Spanish. But her mom's dad was very wealthy. So she was born near Mexico City, or like what's currently Mexico City, and you know, at the time it was a different town, but whatever. So her mother's father was very wealthy, and she and her mother lived on his estate. And that's where she grew up and she had a very comfortable life. Her father was not a part of her life at all, as far as the historical record shows. And she was a genius, like she was truly, truly a genius. Did you read anything about her life, Jackie, or were you just waiting?

J: No, I did. Yeah, she knew lots of different languages. She was self-taught. She taught classical Latin to other kids when she was like thirteen years old. And then there's something that Ada Limón wrote about her, which, we're going to read the translation of one of her poems by Ada Limón and her brother. But what [Ada Limón] wrote said that [Sor Juana] was very, very hard on herself about her learning, and every time that she made a mistake in translation of one of the languages she was learning, she would cut off a little bit of her hair, like cut off one of her braids or something.

T: Oh no!

J: Because she was like, “I don't deserve to have long, beautiful hair adorning this skull if there's nothing in it. Like, if I have an empty brain, I don't get to have pretty hair.” So she would punish herself like that.

T: Wow.

R: So here's some information about her. So, she wasn't allowed to be educated formally because she was a girl. So she would literally sneak into her grandfather's library and just teach all this stuff to herself.

J: Thank God he had good books, because what if you just had a bunch of smut in there? You know, we never would have gotten…

R: The world would be very different. We would have had a thousand Chuck Tingles by now. She, by the age of three, had taught herself how to read and write in Latin. By the age of five she could do accounts. At age eight she composed her first poem, which was about the Eucharist, and then by the time she was an adolescent she had mastered Greek logic. Yeah . When she was thirteen she was teaching Latin to other children. She also learned to read and write the Aztec language Nahuatl, and she wrote some short poems in it.

J: And then she requested to be able to go away to university… I guess whatever the equivalent would have been, to like have higher learning, and she said, “Just let me dress up as a boy and I can go and do it.” But her family wouldn't let her.

R: When she was seventeen, people were kind of talking about her. She was sort of sponsored by the Viceroy and Vicerein of Mexico because they were like, “She's really smart.”

J: So they put together a panel of people to test her intelligence. Right?

R: Cause she was a girl.

J: Yeah!

R: So they were like, there's no way this seventeen year old girl could be smart. So they just shipped in a bunch of old guys from Spain to question her and make sure she was actually smart.

T: Woah!

J: But I read that, and I mean I had a lot of the same little delusions of grandeur that Theo did when he was a kid, but I kind of maintained them into teenage years, even. So I was like,
“God, that was like my dream.” Like that at seventeen, someone would be like…

R: A panel of old Spaniards?

J: Yeah, just bring in a bunch of people to like, let me just show them how smart I am. That would have been like my absolute dream.

R: You still don't know how to read and write Latin, Jackie. They would not have been impressed.

J: I barely know how to speak English or write it.

T: And all the judges there would have been like, “Well… I guess it was a free trip.”

R: Free trip to Bunn.

J: “Oh. I guess there are no smart girls.” Yeah, for her it actually was worth it.

T: But what did she get? When she won the prize?

R: People acknowledged that she was smart.

T: Who?

R: Just the… every, like, rich person in Mexico.

T: Okay.

R: All right, sounds pretty good to Theo!

T: Who organized this? Did you say?

R: The Viceroy.

T: The Viceroy. Okay.

R: Yeah, so at the time, Mexico was a colony of Spain, so he was like sent from Spain to rule over Mexico.

J: Every kid who's full of themselves just wants a panel of adults to be like, “All right, gather round. Let's see how smart this kid really is.” And then, of course, they only ask you questions you know the answer to, like “What's eight times four?” And then you'd be like, (sound of colossal effort) “32!” And they’re like, “You get to skip a grade. Everything's great.”

T: I guess. Yeah, I guess that's why we have like, the SAT and stuff like that now. So you don't need to ship in a panel of Spaniards.

R: You know the ‘s’ in SAT actually stands for Spaniard. It's ‘Spaniard aptitude test’.

J: Aptitude test! Yeah!

R: Okay. At this time she was famous for being so smart and she was a great poet, whatever. She was also considered extraordinarily beautiful, so everyone was wanting to marry her. They were like, “I've got to get this wife! She's so smart, she's so hot, she would be the best wife.”

J: Did people want smart wives?

R: They wanted wives who were really famous for being smart, I guess.

J: Okay.

R: It was like, I guess, you know, she would be a better prize if you were able to be like, “Look, this is my wife, the jewel of Mexico. Her intellect shines so brightly that old Spanish men had to admit it,” or whatever.

T: And then the other guy shakes your hand and is like, “Yes.”

R: Yeah. Nice.

J: Yeah, shake his hand. Look him directly in the eye like, “That jewel is yours.”

R: Like, “I acknowledge your ownership of that jewel.” Well, so, anyway. So they wanted to marry [her] and she was like, “I don't want to do that, I want to continue being a nerd. And also, maybe I'm a lesbian.”

J: I imagine her just like, uttering that one under her breath. Like, “No, I want to continue learning! AlsoIthinkImightlikewomen. But I want to continue learning!”

R: Yep. So, Theo, if you had to think of where should a nerdy lesbian go in 1600s Mexico, what would you say?

T: Um. Time machine.

R: Yeah.

T: Go forward.

R: Right, yeah. But the time machine…. she couldn't find it. So instead she joined a convent.

T: Yes.

R: So the first convent that she joined was the Carmelites, but they were too strict. So after a couple years, I think, she joined the Hieronymites, and they follow the like... I think it's called the rule of St. Augustine, which is like, you know, vows of poverty, chastity, whatever. But they were much more relaxed. And so she joined them, she took her vows and she adopted the name Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

J: Oh, okay. So that's crazy, because she had to rush all these different convents and go through all of the…

T: The hazing?

J: The hazing and everything, yeah.

R: Basically. So once she was in with the Hieronymites, she continued writing and she kept up her correspondences with her wealthy patrons and patronesses. And she also collected a huge amount of books. And she also, apart from her poetry, she became well known for being a playwright and she wrote really popular plays and she also wrote, you know, nonfiction, like she wrote some religious stuff. She was, you know, she was a philosopher, essentially. And she was also a proto-feminist. So she kind of thought and wrote a lot about women's places in society and in Church and so on. She wrote some erotic poetry about women. She wrote... So it's just… it's very interesting.

J: Ehhh, who knows, she might not be a lesbian, though. She might just like writing erotic poetry about women. I don't know.

R: Yeah, it's possible, but probably? I would guess probably she was? But -

J: I’m joking. She's probably a lesbian.

R: Yeah, she's probably a lesbian. But so, anyway, she ends up getting in trouble because the Bishop of Puebla, he's mad because of something critical that she wrote. And he like, writes a response letter with a female pseudonym, which is kind of weird.

J: Yeah, like he didn't respond directly - he didn't say like, “Hey, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz…”

R: “I'm your boss, and I don't like that.”

J: Yeah, he made up a different name for her and then responded to that. So it's like, I guess that's nice of him to not just put her on blast with her real name?

R: But so she responds to that and then, probably mostly because of pressure from this guy, she totally stops writing and she sells all of her books.

T: Noo!

R: And I'm not sure if this really happened, but I saw it in a few places, but she writes out a confession and she signs it in her own blood.

T: Ugh!

J: A confession of what?

R: Of like, “Oh, I was bad. I shouldn't have written that.”

J: Okay.

R: Because the letter from the Bishop was like, “Women, they're writing too much. They should focus more on charity.” And so she wrote out like, “Yeah, I guess, you know, I was vain and I should have been focusing more on helping or whatever.” After this, no more writing, no more books. She starts working as a nurse in the convent hospital, and soon after she contracts the plague and she dies.

T: Aw, no! Plague got her?

R: So she died on the 17th of April, 1695. So she was quite young, actually.

T: When did you say she was born? 1650 or something?

R: I think she was 44.

T: 44, wow.

J: Yep, she was 44.

R: 1648 [sic] to 1695.

J: Man, that darn plague.

R: It’s just crazy that this guy's like, “You need to quit writing!” And then she stops and then like, dies right away.

J: She’s like, “Fine, I'll die!” Oh, no.

R: “Guess I'll just die!”

T: Well, it’s a little passive aggressive, I think.

J: PASS…ive aggressive?

T: Sure.

R: Mmhmm.

J: Yeah, I really liked her poetry, and I was astonished... If you had told me that this woman was alive and writing in 1940, I would have believed that. But the late 1600s, early 1700s? It's honestly astonishing to me that she was having these thoughts already. Like she - she was having modern feminist thoughts. She was a proto-feminist, but I mean, she's saying a lot of the same stuff that we're saying now. And that poem that Theo read some lines from is one of those poems that I felt like, “Oh damn, like, this is still very relevant today.”

R: Okay, so when you read Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz’s poetry, there are a few very common themes. You have her feminism or proto-feminism. She also wrote a lot of religious poetry. And then the third very prominent strain is like, love poems towards women. And we will be covering a feminist poem and a lesbian poem in today's episode.

T: Perfect.

J: Even those poems, though, they're definitely imbued with a sense of the holy, the awe-inspiring, the grand. So even though they're not directly about religion or about Christ, they do have that kind of overwhelming feeling of praise. Don't you think, Rachel?

R: True.

J: Well, maybe not ‘You Foolish Men’. Like, that one's pretty angry. But I think the other ones, they all tend to have this feeling to them.

R: Oh, she's also - I just want to mention her style of poetry. The words are quite intricate and she is considered like, basically the last of the great Baroque poets. So that’s just to put it in context, I guess.

T: Okay.

J: So then in terms of like, her importance to Mexico, because I think Ada Limón has said she had heard about her - and I saw this on other sources too - that you know, people had heard about her, but not in the context of reading her writing. Like they had just heard about her as an important historical figure. Her actual poems have not really been studied until pretty recently by most students. Is that right?

R: Yeah, and unfortunately there's not… I didn't see a good collection of her poems in translation.

J: Could you kind of go over, like… why this poet for Cinco de Mayo? Like, is she the most famous Mexican poet, or the best, or just one that you like?

T: The coolest?

J: The coolest, the gayest, the roundest eyebrows?

R: She's definitely not the most famous. The most famous would have to be Octavio Paz, like, 100%.

J: Okay.

R: Of course, if I had chosen him, it would have been a lot easier for us to find the poems with a definitive translation. But I just really like her. I just I've known about her life for a while, and I feel like like basically, of all the famous Mexican writers in general, she's the one that I feel like I have more of a connection with, as opposed to just kind of trying to force it for a gimmick, you know what I mean?

J: And I mean it's also kind of cool that she's starting to become more well-known around the world and also more well-known in Mexico. So we're just hopping on the zeitgeist, you know?

R: Yeah, I hope so. I wish there was a book of her poems in translation, because not even… not all of it is translated and a lot of it is just kind of translated just so you can get the gist, but it's not artful.

J: I sense an opportunity!

R: Yeah, Jackie! This is where you come in.

T: Oh my gosh, a Fire the Canon brand translation? Oh wait. But neither of you know Spanish, right?

R: I do!

J: Not that fluently.

T: Yeah, not at all, right?

R: I could translate it.

J: Well, then you do it.

R: Well, I can translate, and then you have to poetize it.

J: Oh okay, gotcha.

R: Yeah.

J: Yeah, Ada Limón said, even if you don't know Spanish, try reading one of her poems in Spanish just out loud to yourself so you can hear the musicality of her words. And she said that a lot of Sor Juana's poetry is very focused on sound. And there's lots and lots and lots of poetry that's more commonly focused on the visual, you know, like this idea of ‘show, don't tell,’ and describing the way things look. But her poetry is very musica- sounding and focuses a lot on sound as a focal point for the poem. Which I was like, “Oh, I love this, because I don't have great visual processing and I'm much more of an aural person.” And so I did try reading one of her poems to myself in Spanish. And like, I know some Spanish. But I was like, “Yeah, I can kind of see it.” Like, they just sound good when you read them. So I don't know, Rachel, if you want to try reading one of them in Spanish and just kind of letting people see how it flows?

R: Um, I can… My accent is not great.

T: Oh no.

R: But when we… how about when we cover ‘I Approach and I Withdraw’, I can read one of the verses in Spanish and we can compare it.

T: Cool!

J: Okay.

R: Okay, let's start with ‘You Foolish Men’ though.

J: Yeah!

R: This is one of her most famous ones. You know, when Jackie said that she could see her, you know, being a writer two, three hundred years after, it makes sense. Because it does - her sentiments are very, you know, very contemporary, or they feel very modern.

J: Also, I mean… I'm not a great, you know, expert in what other poetry of this time would have sounded like, especially written by women. But it seems like it's just very aggressive? Like -

R: She's mad.

J: She's mad, she's angry, and you know, I can kind of see why maybe this didn't get taught everywhere, because it would be dangerous to teach this to everyone everywhere.

R: I feel like she kind of used the convent as a safe space where she… I think she had more, you know, freedom of speech, being a nun. Like being protected, not having to come in contact with men in her day to day life.

J: Yeah, so should one of us read it?

R: You can do this one.

J: Actually, the other one’s my favorite, so can I read that one and you read this one?

R: Okay, sure, all right. So this poem is called ‘You Foolish Men’.

You foolish men who lay
the guilt on women,
not seeing you're the cause
of the very thing you blame;

if you invite their disdain
with measureless desire
why wish they well behave
if you incite to ill.

You fight their stubbornness,
then, weightily,
you say it was their lightness
when it was your guile.

In all your crazy shows
you act just like a child
who plays the bogeyman
of which he's then afraid.

With foolish arrogance
you hope to find a Thais
in her you court, but a Lucretia
when you've possessed her.

What kind of mind is odder
than his who mists
a mirror and then complains
that it's not clear.

Their favour and disdain
you hold in equal state,
if they mistreat, you complain,
you mock if they treat you well.

No woman wins esteem of you:
the most modest is ungrateful
if she refuses to admit you;
yet if she does, she's loose.

You always are so foolish
your censure is unfair;
one you blame for cruelty
the other for being easy.

What must be her temper
who offends when she's
ungrateful and wearies
when compliant?

But with the anger and the grief
that your pleasure tells
good luck to her who doesn't love you
and you go on and complain.

Your lover's moans give wings
to women's liberty:
and having made them bad,
you want to find them good.

Who has embraced
the greater blame in passion?
She who, solicited, falls,
or he who, fallen, pleads?

Who is more to blame,
though either should do wrong?
She who sins for pay
or he who pays to sin?

Why be outraged at the guilt
that is of your own doing?
Have them as you make them
or make them what you will.

Leave off your wooing
and then, with greater cause,
you can blame the passion
of her who comes to court?

Patent is your arrogance
that fights with many weapons
since in promise and insistence
you join world, flesh and devil.

R: She's got a lot. There's a little bit more.

J: Go OFF, Sor Juana!

R: The thing is, it's funny reading that because, like, all the stuff she says, is like when you're a teenager and you're going through your own proto-feminist awakening. These are conversations I had with other teens in college where we're like, wait a second, why are men doing this when… blah blah blah blah.

J: Why DO they want us to dress a certain way, and then they find us, you know, unacceptable if we do that thing? This is just - the whole thing is the Madonna and the Whore complex laid out in poetic form. So the idea that women have to be virginal and chaste, but also men want [women] to have sex with them, but also, if they do, then they're bad… You really can't win either way. I really like “with foolish arrogance / you hope to find a Thais / in her you court, but a Lucretia / when you've possessed her.” And I'm just like - “We want a lady in the street, but a FREAK in the bed!” That's literally what that says. Like, that's just the 1600s version of that.

R: True. Yeah. I mean, like it's not super, you know, complicated feminist thinking.

J: No. But she's just so angry and it's so fresh.

R: It’s a cri du coeur. Yeah, it's her saying, “This is how I feel and I'm mad about it,” and reading it, you see why she did not want to get married.

J: Yeah, and she addresses it straight to men as a group.

R: Well, no, only to foolish men.

J: To foolish men, yeah.

T: That means any man can read it and be like, “Oh, this isn't about me, then.”

R: “I’m not foolish. I'm a smart boy.”

J: Well I just mean, as opposed to saying, like, “Men do this thing, like I don't like it when THEY do this. She's saying directly to you, you're the offender, you’re the problem.

R: Right. I hope she had an effect on some people.

J: Yeah. The next one we're going to read - I feel like she was very good at this in her work. From what I've seen, she's very good at pointing out discrepancies and…

R: Hypocrisy?

J: Dissonance. Yeah. Just like, how can these two things be the same thing, and how can one exist while the other exists, and yet you claim they're both wrong? So yeah, very interesting.

R: Which, that's what she did in a lot of her nonfiction essays on the Church. She would kind of point out little discrepancies and build an argument on them. And it is kind of hard for me to imagine how a woman who is so smart and sharp, how she was able to survive as a nun in this time period.

J: Hmm. I'm kind of surprised to hear you say that, because I kind of figured… there was another woman that we talked about in the Ada Palmer episode. There was a woman who disdained marriage and just decided to live in a convent and just study on her own. I'm forgetting the name of the woman now.

R: No - it’s not that. Because I know it was a much better option for a lot of people. It's her sharpness that makes me surprised she was able to survive.

J: Because you have to be quiet and comply with things?

R: Yeah, well, like she's constantly writing about this stuff and you know, I would just be worried she'd get in trouble. But also it's… it is sometimes hard to be like how did you… How can you be a part of this church that at the time had, you know, even more hypocrisy? And still maintain faith, which it seems like she did, because she wrote a bunch of, you know, pretty beautiful religious poetry and plays and that sort of thing.

J: Yeah. I don't know. It feels like she wouldn't have had any other choice really.

R: I mean, if I were her, I would have stayed at my Grandpa’s house. Barricaded myself in the library.

J: Maybe they wouldn't have agreed to support you forever. Maybe they would have said you need to go out and find a nice man.

R: No! What a nightmare.

J: Also, I mean, in a convent… that's a - I gotta say, it's a good place to meet ladies.

R: It's a really good place.

J: You’re not going to meet much of anything else, but it's a really good place to meet ladies. Yeah.

R: Yeah, true.

* Interstitial music plays -

J: Thanks for listening! We do have a new patron to thank, do we not?

T: Okay.

R & J, harmonizing: Edward, Edward, Edward!

J: Thanks, Edward, for becoming one of our patrons! We’re so excited to have you, and I believe you are a coworker of Stephen’s. It's super exciting, because none of us have met you before, and you know, we love all the patrons that we've met, but we also really love the patrons we haven't met. It means a lot to us. And he also left a very nice comment on Rachel's Green Knight cocktail recipe, which is available on the Patreon. I think it's in a folder called Drinking the Books, right, Rachel?

R: Yeah, something like that.

T: He made the cocktail!

R: Booking the drinks.

J: He made the cocktail and he took a picture of it and it looked good. It looked like that nice fresh kind of green color. So good job, Edward, you understood the assignment.

R: And now, audience, usually when we try to convince you to join the Patreon we really just talk up the episodes, but there are some cocktails.

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J: And I will say this. We are one patron away from making our next stretch goal!

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J: Yeah, but you know why I can't.

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T: All right, back to the episode. Thanks, Edward!

J: So I really liked this poem, ‘I Approach and I Withdraw.’ So I'll read this one. Actually, Rachel, let's maybe up the, you know, mystery element a little bit and you read some in Spanish and then I'll tell everybody what it means. So this will be very mysterious for those of you who don't speak Spanish.

R: I’ll just read the first stanza, right?

J: Yeah, go ahead.

R: Me acerco y me retiro:
¿quién sino yo hallar puedo
a la ausencia en los ojos
la presencia en lo lejos?

J: Very good!

R: I'm not used to her language.

J: Not used to her language?

R: Like, it's not the kind of Spanish that you speak now or learn in school.

J: Yeah, like you don't go to the grocery store and say stuff like that. I don't know, but so I’ll read it to you. It is. It does sound pretty simple. It's not all that confusing, all right. I approach and I withdraw.

I approach, and I withdraw:
who but I could find
absence in the eyes,
presence in what's far?

From the scorn of Phyllis,
now, alas, I must depart.
One is indeed unhappy
who misses even scorn!

So caring is my love
that my present distress
minds hard-heartedness less
than the thought of its loss.

Leaving, I lose more
than what is merely mine:
in Phyllis, never mine,
I lose what can't be lost.

Oh, pity the poor person
who aroused such kind disdain
that to avoid giving pain,
it would grant no favor!

For, seeing in my future
obligatory exile,
she disdained me the more,
that the loss might be less.

Oh, where did you discover
so neat a tactic, Phyllis:
denying to disdain
the garb of affection?

To live unobserved
by your eyes, I now go
where never pain of mine
need flatter your disdain.

J: Auuuhhhhh! Juana!

R: I feel like she was in love. She HAS to have been in love, you know what I mean?

J: I feel like she was in love with Phillis.

R: She's also, she wrote, like, a very sexual one, that's called ‘Ines, When They Call You a Bitch.’ But I don't know how good the translation was, so that's why I didn't have us read it.

J: Yeah. When it - when she first said “from the scorn of Phyllis I must depart,” I was like that must be like a Greek goddess or something. I'm not really getting the reference. And then by the second and third time I was like, Ah, naw, that's actually a girl. That's her girl. But do you see what I mean about, like, she's calling out the dissonance and saying

T: “I miss your scorn”?

J: Like, “I miss even being scorned by you.”

R: Yeah. True, she's basically saying, ‘I would rather be around Phyllis and have her be like, ‘I really don't like you,’ then not be around her.

J: She says, “Where did you discover this tactic, Phyllis?!”

R: Yeah.

J: Being mean to me so that I would be less sad when you leave me? It's like, oh man, little did you know, Phyllis was doing like a… How to Make a Guy Leave in 10 days, or whatever it is. What is it?

R: How to Lose a Nun in 10 Days?

J: Yeah, how to lose a nun in ten days. Phillis was coming around like, “Our love fern!!”

R: She says, “One is indeed unhappy / Who misses even scorn.” You have to think she's been unlucky in love.

T: It kind of reminds me of when I was in high school, the volleyball coach at my high school was apparently really mean. She did something like really terrible, I guess, and then the volleyball players complained to their parents and the parents complained to the school and the volleyball coach got fired.

J: Uh-huh.

T: But then I was doing a group project with two of the volleyball players who wished the coach hadn't gotten fired, and one of them said to the other one, “I just… I just wish she would yell at us just one more time.” Like, what??

J: And she was like, genuine about that?

T: Yeah, like, what's going on in THAT girl's head?

J: It seems like she either had a little crush on the volleyball coach or maybe just has something going on in her home life she might have needed some help with.

R: Stockholm syndrome.

J: Yeah, I don’t know! “I just wish she would yell at us one more time!”

T: I'm picturing, like at the actual volleyball practices, she's like doing bad things just to get yelled at. She sets off, like, fireworks.

J: Yeah, or like my cats do when they're not getting attention. Like they'll just knock something off the shelf and then stare straight into my eyes like, “Yeah, you're paying attention to me now, right?” Like that's what that girl would have done. That's not a complex emotion, that's a simple emotion with a simple solution.

T: Uh, yell at her?

J: Like, just do something destructive so that someone will pay attention to you.

T: Oh.

J: Yeah.

T: Easy solution, yes.

J: Yeah, cats understand that as well as Phyllis. Yeah.

R: That's what this podcast is.

J: I think I… having been yelled at, I want nothing more than for that not to happen again.

T: I don't want someone to yell at me.

J: But that's just me being weird.

R: I like it when people yell at me in an encouraging way.

T: Like, “Go, go, Rachel, go!”

J: I don't think we'd usually call that yelling AT you.

R: “Get out of here, we don't need you anymore!”

T: “You broke our heart for the last time!”

J: That's encouraging? “I encourage you to leave right now!”

T: “I encourage you to leave right…” Yeah.

J: “I highly encourage you to go fuck yourself!”

R: Whoa.

T: Rachel.

J: Can I tell you guys something crazy that my mom texted me yesterday?

T: Okay.

R: Yeah, girl.

J: She said, “Is it possible for a person to have a twin that was absorbed by birth and then that person has a child, but the child is actually the twin’s and not theirs?”

T: Ohh!

J: No context.

R: It is.

T: That’s interesting.

J: Well, no. I mean -

T: It sounds very possible.

J: It’s - it's not. I was like, why are you asking me this? And then her only response was “Someone had a post.” And I was just like, okay.

R: Okay, wait. I've heard about people who were like - is it, what were they, chimeras or something?

J: Yeah, you could be... You can absorb a twin in the womb and then be a chimera, meaning like you're a mosaic of your DNA and their DNA. This is, of course, assuming that they're not already an identical twin, or you wouldn't know the difference. But yeah, you can do that and then, very hypothetically, if you're a woman, one of your egg cells could be formed out of that cell line, if it happened early enough. But the eggs form very early -

T: So it’s true.

J: I mean like - very theoretically it's possible.

R: Yeah, it's true and it's plausible and it happens all the time.

T: And I should be worried about it.

R: And like, it's probably happened to us.

J: Yeah, because you don't know, that could have been an evil twin. Any time that you have a baby with a woman, you have no idea whose baby that's actually going to end up being.

T: Me, or the person I absorbed?

R: Right, hers or her evil twin’s.

J: No, like you know it'll be your sperm, but you have no idea if it's going to be her evil twin or not. Like anyone could be the mom of that baby.

R: He can't have sperm from his absorbed twin?

T: Yeah, come on!

J: Um, no, because men make new sperm every day.

R: C’mon, Jackie.

J: Or like every couple days.

T: But what if what I absorbed was my twin’s testicles?

J: Hmmm.

T: Got you there.

J: Hmmm.

R: He really did. Like, he outsmarted you.

T: What if I had a genetic deformity where I didn't have testicles, and then I had a twin in the womb that had a deformity where they were ONLY testicles?

J: They were only testicles? Like they were just a testicle person?

T: Yeah, and so then I absorbed them and became…

J: A man.

R: A testicled man.

J: Same thing. I guess you could have a cell line that turns into your evil twin’s sperm. I don't know why they're evil. You're the evil one, you're the one who absorbed them!

T: Well, maybe we absorbed them because we have to prevent them from unleashing their evil in the world. So it's an act of heroism.

J: Yeah, it's like a Voldemort and professor Quirrell situation.

T: Yeah. Wait, which one of us do you think is most likely to have absorbed someone in utero? Between the three of us?

J: I kind of feel like it's me, because I feel like I, you know, I'm just made of multitudes and I feel like there's a lot of different parts of myself, and I'm like, yeah, I probably…

R: How many freaking twins do you think you absorbed?

J: I absorbed at least one complex person who is more than just a ball of testicles. I'll tell you that.

R: An elephant, you mean?

J: Maybe. I did - I had a girl, a patient of mine, that I was talking to and she told me this. Every so often people will tell you things, and you're like, “This is a waste of time and there's no reason for us to talk about this,” but I'm so fascinated that I just don't want to stop them. We only meet one time. So I had known this girl for like maybe ten minutes and she was like, “I've always had this feeling that I absorbed my male twin in the womb, because sometimes I feel as though I have, like, a masculine part of my brain.” And she was like, “Is that possible?” And I was like, “Sure!” (Rachel laughs) “Can we talk about your genetic testing now?”

T: What's a masculine part of your brain? What does that mean?

R: Yeah.

J: I don't know. I mean I guess another person might describe that as maybe feeling a little bit of genderqueer, but she explained it as like, “I probably observed absorbed a boy in the womb and that's why I feel like part male and part female.”

R: There's probably a simpler explanation.

J: I don't know. That's a really simple explanation. Just being genderqueer for no reason? Like how do you explain [that]? You know, we don't know what goes on in the brain.

R: For no reason?!

J: Yeah, you gotta have a good reason!

R: Or else.

J: I don't mean that.

R: Jackie's the genderqueer police.

T: I've written plenty of essays about why I'm straight. Why I'm a straight, cis man.

J: Really?

T: These are the reasons. Yeah.

R: You have?

T: Yeah, three pieces of supporting evidence for each paragraph.

J: Yeah, everybody has to have a good reason.

R: Or else they can't do it.

J: Or, well, I just won't believe you. Like you can tell me you're straight all day long, but until I see that essay…

T: “Well, everything checks out.”

J: Okay, yeah! “All right, here's your passport. Into the land of straight cis maleness.

R: “You made a good, strong thesis.”

J: All right, well, you know, why don't we just get out there and enjoy this beautiful day, you guys?

R: Yeah!

T: Okay.

J: And if you would like to catch us on social media, it's @Firethecanonpod. TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram.

R: Thanks for joining us, everyone. Gracias a todo for joining us.

T: Thank you so much.

J: Feliz Cinco de Mayo.

R: Feliz Cinco de Mayo, and I hope you are inspired to check out Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. I think she's really cool and I hope we get some great English translations of her works. Everywhere that you want to find us, we can be found @Firethecanonpod: Gmail, our website, TikTok, Instagram, what am I forgetting? Twitter. @firethecanonpod. The one exception is the Canon.

J: NO pod.

T: BAD pod.

J: And, as always, Canon is spelled C-A-N-O-N.

R: Bye!

T: Bye!

R: Hasta luego.

J: Hasta la vista, baby.

* End music plays -